File Under Female
A collaborative project created by Bella Milroy when she was artist-in-residence at the Women’s Art Library, (WAL) Goldsmiths, University of London.

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File Under Female was a collaborative project created by Bella Milroy when she was artist-in-residence at the Women’s Art Library, (WAL) Goldsmiths, University of London. The residency came about as part of her Birth Rites Collection Bi-Annual Award prize, and the project evolved during 2017 into a solo show of her work, publication and panel event.

Her show was featured at Goldsmith’s Kingsway Corridor; a combination of sculptural, text based artworks on large hessian canvases, and a series of photographic works. Accompanying these works was a publication made in collaboration with Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad of The White Pube. The piece was featured in the exhibition for viewers to take away, as well as being distributed across Derbyshire Libraries as part of National Libraries Week.

The majority of the artworks created for this project were made in response to a particular aspect of the archive at WAL belonging to the artist Symrath Patti. Special thanks to Symrath for her generosity in allowing her archive to be featured in this project.

You can visit WAL and see Symrath’s archive and many other incredible artists at WAL, along with the original publication created for this project. The archive is carefully managed and curated by Althea Greenan. It is with great thanks to Althea for her invaluable and continued support in bringing this project to life. Go to the WAL website for more details.

To find out more details of the project, how Bella worked with the Women’s Art Library or to request a hard copy of the publication, please contact


artist's website

The body of work that was used in Bella Milroy’s ‘File Under Female’ was part of The Complete Promise, found at the Women’s Art Library. A portrait was used in the catalogue and labelled ‘self portrait.’ I then added to it commenting on self portraiture and selling identity as ethnicity as self portraiture. Tearing away at one’s own image; how we fitted in culturally and how that was being monitored in the 80s and 90s. I wrote 'file under post-colonial female' since I was exploring and questioning the dominant gaze in a patriarchal society as well as police cultural surveillance. Bella was drawn to the image and the text that had been written by me. She decided to make work exploring the image and text; it became a collective experience.


Symrath Patti



Transcript of an audio recording of Bella Milroy introducing herself and her publication at a hybrid workshop with DAAP at the Women's Art Library, 21 July 2023:

I was awarded residency, at WAL in 2017, when I won an award by the Birthrights Collection. And the residency itself was a very foundational moment in my career and probably the first moments of trying to understand my own access needs as well, of which Althea was a crucial component of, in this kind of gentle figuring out of what's possible of a three week residency in London when I live in Chesterfield and rely on lots of care supports based here.

So three weeks turned into majority of 2017, I would say. But it was kind of separated into blocks of a week at a time and culminated in this programme of work, which included an exhibition at the Kingsway corridor at Goldsmith, a panel event at Chesterfield Library and a publication of which is part of, part of the archive.

And it was very much inspired by a particular archival collection by the artist Symrath Patti. And I think one of the most wonderful experiences of being able to just kind of wander through the archive space is this kind of like this universe of material and each box is kind of its own planet, and you just kind of arrive on it, and the kind of the generosity of that invitation is really special.

And there was a really striking, example of ephemera in Symrath’s collection, which is a catalogue from an exhibition that her work was featured in. And so it has about her and her work. And then it has a photograph of of Symrath, which underneath says self-portrait.

And then alongside that is this very visceral, very … The impact of this kind of handwritten text that edits this titling of it being a self portrait. And it reads … and there's different kind of readings to it because it is quite a jumble of text, but it's very … it reads: ‘it's not a self portrait. I did not take the photo or press photography. File under postcolonial female arts and all the other isms.’ And that was enough to carry me away of … how inspiring and powerful, that kind of rejection of this mis archiving almost of her, as an artist and her work in general.

It became a really kind of crucial line of inquiry throughout my research spent at WAL. And I really wanted that to be a kind of key feature of the publication. I'm just looking at it now myself…It was lovely to be able to hand this out when I was on residency last week, actually.

So the handwritten component became a really kind of inspiring aspect of this research and I'm really drawn to the kind of intimacy found within handwriting as a process, as a format. It's kind of bodily, the way there's a kind of bodily, experience of that.

And so especially in terms of how that can play with scale of that as well, I feel like Symrath's handwritten text here, there's a kind of … I feel like it really mirrored the capacity of the archive to be something that's very small and held close, and then all of a sudden something that's very large and loud and encompassing, like I say, this universe of things.

And so one side of the publication being one of the photographs that I took whilst I was there, I was really excited by the different encasements of the archives. So there's kind of like the plastic sheetings, apologies Althea for not using formal language, I’m sure it’s far more specific than plastic sheetings. I loved, again, the kind of embodiment of that kind of care and the way things were literally kind of held and cradled. So his plastic peripheral covering became a really exciting material to explore. So I was taking lots of photographs using that and playing with the different kind of surfaces that that creates. So this became the artwork on one of the sides of the publication and then on the other is a handwritten essay by Gabrielle De La Puente and Zarina Muhammad of the White Pube, who also came to the panel event in Chesterfield Library, alongside Claire Collison and Althea Greenan as well.

So we have this kind of contemporary handwritten response alongside Symrath’s which was a really special thing to kind of play with at that time, I think. I think that kind of pretty much captures what that specific publication, how that functioned within that programme.

Althea: Bella. What’s kind of interesting, because we have Nina Hoechtl in the room, is that the poster format that we came up with? Nina's ‘EINLADUNG ZUR RECHERCHE’ is a glorious combination of artist intervention and publication, you know, very, very thin. It's only on one side, and it's almost see through, but it's one of the most powerful kind of artist publications that we have in the whole collection. There’s so much that has come in between me saying, how about something like this?

Bella: Oh my goodness, yeah. And it was such a powerful piece, the way it starts. And again the thinness was so exciting to play with and I was really excited by that exploration throughout my work at the archive was again this kind of the different elasticity of that space being something … that everything was kind of laminated, this thinness that then became bigness. And that piece was wonderful and very inspirational to how the format of this came about. And I also should mention that as part of the project I worked with CILIP, the Chartered Institute for Library Professionals and also Derbyshire Libraries in distributing the catalogue. And so it was distributed as a PDF, which I'd be really interested to know your thoughts in terms of the digital archiving. It was distributed as a PDF across all libraries in England, and then as a hard copy across all libraries in Derbyshire, and again sometimes it was displayed like this and other times it was displayed and in the kind of poster format as well.

So yeah that was a totally inspirational piece in how this came about. So yes, thank you so much Althea for reminding me of that.

Jessa: I love how there was like this demonstration [holding items up to the camera for online workshop participants to see] of your poster, Nina's poster, Symrath’s publication. It's such a beautiful example of how these works are not happening in a silo, they're related, and they're connected and, draw from each other.

Nina: Just to jump in, as Althea mentioned my name. I mean, the poster you showed, Althea, I did it together with Julia Wieger as the secretariat for ‘Ghosts, Archival Politics, and Gaps’. And that's like a working group that started in the Austrian Association of Women Artists in Vienna that was founded in 1910.

And this is one of the only group photos. So the association is still active. I'm still a member. Back then I was a board member. But yes, it's this long, long history, a very complex history as it's still alive. You can imagine it has also collaborated with the Nazi power in the Nazi years in Austria, also what was happening between 1938 and 1945.

I'm not going there into the detail, but this photo is actually not clear when it was taken. And the interesting thing of this group photo is it's not all of the women artists we can identify, but we can identify two. And there is one that was the Jewish president that had to go into exile to Paris and died in there. And her vice president, Helene Kraus, who was a Nazi. So also these interesting histories that actually happened that these two were collaborating before, but then Helene Kraus kept in power in the association and the other one died because of the political situation.

And then for us in, I think we published this poster actually to invite more people because it's saying ‘invitation to research’ on this poster. Also very hard to see. It's actually for more people to explore this complex contradictory history of such a long Women's Artist Association, and I liked a lot that you said now the thinness, the thinness of the poster but also the thinness of histories and who is telling histories.


workshop transcript




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